Saturday, December 6, 2008

Family Get Togethers

A lot has happened in just 2 short months, and there’s been little time to write!

A few short weeks after we arrived home, the grandparents started to visit. Three and a half weeks later, we were back to being just the 3 of us. A week and a half later, it was Thanksgiving Day, which we spent in North Carolina at Grandma Joan’s house. The following night, we went to the Grove Park Inn in Asheville to kick off the Christmas season. The Grove Park Inn is one of America’s most beautiful hotels. The main building is built of stone and has a roof which reminds me of those in the Cotswold area of England. I love the 2 enormous fireplaces inside, the Arts and Crafts style furniture, and the view overlooking the city of Asheville. Every year, The Grove Park Inn is host to a gingerbread competition where children and adults all over the country bring their amazing culinary creations to compete in winning the $3000 grand prize. The hotel decorates tons of trees down the same halls, each one different than the next. We took Anya into the very crowded main lobby at 8 pm to see the hotel’s largest tree be lit, preceded by Santa’s arrival. Anya immediately knew that Santa Clause was very special, and ever since then she’s been to pointing him, and Christmas trees, in the books we read.

In the days following, we began a new family tradition of baking and decorating to get into the spirit of Christmas as a family. Anya really enjoys watching us cook and bake, so she put on two potholders that made her look like a small lobster with oversized claws and helped us keep watch on the cookies baking in the oven, with the light on, of course.

Decorating the tree was done while Anya was napping, so that when she came in, the tree was ready to be admired. And touched. Ornaments were grabbed. The word ‘no’ was used regularly. A small fist punched the tree in objection. Since then, we have been learning the ‘touch with one finger’ rule, which I learned second hand from my aunt. And, it satisfies everyone, most of the time.

In keeping with the season of miracles, Anya herself has given us gifts of hope and joy. Two days ago, she started going to the bathroom in the toilet. She is making amazing strides in her language skills. We understand her saying ‘all gone’, ‘baby’ (second word), ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘b-bye’ (first word), and ‘dog’. It amazes us how much of what we say she understands. She responds with words and actions. I also have a little helper now. Anya helps by bringing the laundry into the laundry room, sweeping the floor (she is very adept at holding the dustpan without anything falling out), setting the table, and putting things where they belong.

What do we get a kick out of most with Anya? Probably mealtime. When the food comes, she squeals loudly in excitement and does a little jump in her chair. Somewhere in Russia, there was an immaculate conception on our behalf, because that is exactly how Trav and I react when we see good food too.

We’ve been celebrating ever since we brought Anya home, and it’s a great gift to spend all our holidays together, as a family. We couldn’t ask for anything more.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Trav and I keep commenting on what lucky parents we are. We have the funniest, happiest, cutest kid, AND she has dimples. Anya is doing amazingly well for only being home a month. When we first met her, she was shy, would barely look us in the eye, wasn’t smiling much, hardly peeped a sound, and was hesitant about being around us. Now, she acts like a normal toddler, getting into everything and babbling constantly. She is completely attached to Trav and me (I used to ask her on occasion if she was attached yet), and we love seeing her smile and hearing her laugh. Her favorite things are being outside, playing in the bath, and eating. She eats at least as much as I do, sometimes more, and she is a very neat eater for the most part.

As for me, I’ve got a new respect for moms. I fight everyday to keep up the house, take care of my family and make sure we’re getting our exercise in and eating healthy. Finding balance is a challenge!

I am a self-confessed control-freak, so letting go has been a struggle. But, with prayer and work, as well as some insightful words from my mom, I let Anya control most things, except when she goes down for naps and to bed for the night. One of the things I’ve learned is that children make progress quickly, but they also have days or a week here or there where it seems their brains are overloaded, and they take a break. My dad mentioned today that I should beware that at age 13, the brain fairy will come take her brain away for about a decade. But, I digress. Regarding this week’s brain vacation, Anya isn’t using any of her baby signs, and she isn’t really eating anything by herself, preferring instead that we feed her. I haven’t summed up what I think about the job of mothering, other than that it’s really confusing and insightful, stressful and fun. There’s something amazing about having a child that makes you want to change yourself for the better. When you screw up and your own child gives you grace, it makes you work hard to be a better parent, and give that grace back in abundance.

I think Anya has had a lot of fun with all the new experiences she’s had, visiting the apple orchards, the pumpkin patch, the zoo, and tomorrow, experiencing Halloween as a cute little pig with some new friends. We are having a lot of fun with her, and although she keeps us busy, we always enjoy the funny moments she brings to our lives. She fits right in, and I told Anya today that I was definitely attached.

Monday, October 6, 2008

It is great to be back in the good ‘ol USA. We missed our king size bed and our dog, Daisy. We missed English and home cooked food. We missed friends and family. We missed warm days and sunshine.

While we were gone, our friends and my mom helped finish Anya’s room, left us home cooked meals in the freezer, cleaned our house, mowed our yard, babysat Daisy, brought toys and playthings for Anya, filled our fruit bowl and fridge, and decorated our house. We were so overwhelmed by everyone’s efforts in welcoming us home, we felt like we were on a toned-down version of ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover show. Welcome Home, Raish Family, Welcome Home!

Cheri Beckman is a talented muralist and painted the ladybugs and dragonflies in Anya’s room, as well as the polka-dots that matched the bedding set. Beth Blanc is a talented jewelry designer with a former profession in interior design who dressed the windows, and her husband Bob finished off the trim around the room and helped with the finishing touches. Anya’s bedroom is the best looking room in the house without a doubt, so you know who holds the highest honor in our home.


I’m coming up for air! Today was Anya’s first good day since we arrived home. She was crying a lot; she is going through the grieving process. We immediately initiated a routine when we arrived home. She is still having a hard time with naps. At first, she would cry for 5-10 minutes when we’d put her down. Lately, she has cried for 2 hours or more. The first 2 days, we went in several times to soothe her, but to no avail. She was also jet lagged. Then, we tried 2 days of leaving the room completely, which didn’t work either. Today, I stayed in her room for 20 minutes without talking to her, and she cried for only 20 minutes more, so maybe we’re making progress.

We were feeding her, but she would throw a fit after every bite or two of food that we would put in. So, we decided to let her feed herself, which she can do anyway, and the tantrums have decreased. This also occurs with putting on shoes. She wants to choose her shoes and put them on herself, so we let her do what she can and help her when she “asks” for it. It’s hard not to want to help her, because she was left to do for herself at the orphanage. When she eats, she uses her spoon to catch food that doesn’t make it in her mouth. She’ll scoop it off her face for instance, like a parent would do for a baby. Anything that drops on the floor, she shows immediate concern. She doesn’t understand the concept of “all gone”. So, when there is no more applesauce for instance, she gets very upset.

Do all moms feel sorrow at their loss of freedom once they have the child they’ve wanted for so long? I’m feeling a bit of that now, but not too badly. I feel fortunate that Anya has bonded so well with me. She follows me everywhere and wants to be held a lot. She holds onto my legs while I’m cooking. I get hugs that melt my heart, and I’ve gotten a couple kisses too. The last week has been hard for all of us, but today was a great welcome. A recent bible study I read taught me that God is working through me to be the mother He wants me to be, and honestly, that is a great comfort. Thank you God, for our daughter, and for the gift of parenthood, no matter how hard things get.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How Great is God?

Thank you to everyone for all your kindness and sharing our excitement in becoming a family! God is so amazing, it just takes our breath away. There are no words to express how thankful to Him we are for this amazing little girl who is now our daughter.

Everything is going great. Anya is sometimes still nervous about Travis, but each day I think she falls a little more in love with him! She is so smiley that we can hardly take our eyes off of her. She loves her hat and her sunglasses, and is in love with shoes. She is eating everything in sight, so her ribcage is filling in! She loves being outside and is fascinated by the mirror. We are seeing her mind grow by leaps and bounds already. Her only disappointment with us is when she has to take a nap or go to sleep at night. She has labeled the bedroom as "bad" and shuts the door anytime we go near it, which really cracks us up.

Parenting feels so natural that it kind of surprised me. I thought I would need to get used to the change, but it really fits like a glove.

Tomorrow we should have all the paperwork we need as well as Anya's passport, so will be on our way to Moscow on Saturday. Sunday we plan to take Anya to the zoo, and then Monday and Tuesday we will visit the U.S. Embassy and the doctor, as well as a few other sights to take pictures. We are excited to get home, but we will miss our CHI family in Tver! We will see you all soon!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gotcha Day!

Have you ever had such a wonderful day that you can’t really describe it because it feels so amazing? That is what we feel today. I want to stop writing at this point, but this is a journal.

We started the day by picking up Anya’s birth certificate and adoption certificate at Tver’s record keeping office. Alexei and Masha drove us to Konakova where we picked up some chocolate, cake and flowers for the orphanage staff. At around 1:30, we arrived at the baby house. This was a big day, as we were the 4th couple to arrive to take their child home. A caretaker we hadn’t seen before brought Anya in to us, so I picked her up and brought her over to the couch. The caretaker told us her schedule and described what she ate, which was “everything”. Lastly, she gave us a gold cross on a blue piece of ribbon – Anya had been baptized. We took off her shoes and clothes and re-dressed her with the clothes we had brought, although we kept her tights on, because the ones we brought stretched from her head to her toes. We took some quick video and pictures, and then it was time to leave. The caretakers and staff all said goodbye, and we thanked everyone as we left the orphanage.

We took some pictures outside, then got in the van and left. On the way back to the hotel, our little girl was taking it all in, babbling and eating her raisins. When we arrived back at the hotel, Dima and Olga had arrived from bringing back Jan and Katarina from seeing their 2 boys, so everyone was there to welcome us back from springing our girl out of the orphanage! We went upstairs and got situated, and called Trav’s parents on skype so that they could meet Anya for the first time. They were very excited to see her, and the feeling was mutual for her as well. She babbled a lot and enjoyed tapping on the computer, and then, I felt a warm sensation on my leg. So into the bathroom we went, to change all our clothes. We figured out the bathroom routine later today, after buying her a little person’s toilet, but then she preferred the big one instead. We gave her lots of praise! We took a stroll to the mall and back, and later had dinner with Jan and Katarina. She ate a whole banana, a half box of raisins, some vegetable soup, and chicken. The chicken made her eyes get big and we got a huge smile from her in approval. She didn’t make a peep in the restaurant, and Jan and Katarina were so impressed with her behavior. Heck, so were we!

When we got back to the room at about 8:15, we got her ready for bed. She was agitated, but not upset, so we sang her some songs and gave her “mishka”, her teddy bear, and then we prayed with her for about 5 minutes while laying our hands on her. When we opened our eyes, she was laying down comfortably. We talked with her quietly for about 15 minutes, and then she fell asleep with her thumb in her mouth. All in all, a perfect 10 day. She didn’t seem that keen on being with us in the orphanage, but today made all the difference in the world. A family makes all the difference in the world!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Countdown to Gotcha Day

Alexei told us today that next Tuesday, September 23rd, is The Big Day. This is one day later than what we thought. To be honest, we have no idea how the 10 day period is actually counted. It’s not consecutive days. It’s not business days. It must just be when it’s convenient for the Who’s down in Whoville. So, we are going to post our daughter’s picture that day, because that’s like our due date – our family will be born! We are looking forward to Gotcha Day, and are psychologically preparing ourselves for the transition.

We had another visit yesterday morning, and we are happy to report that she DID NOT cry upon our arrival, and furthermore, she allowed Travis to hold her. She was fussy through most of the hour and a half we had to visit with her, until the caretaker came in, and then she was extremely happy. She actually bounced her torso up and down and wiggled to get out of Trav’s arms, then walked quickly towards the caretaker with a huge smile on her face. We can now get a little bit of a chuckle at this obvious emotional display of joy for someone other than us. At first, we were insulted. But now, we’re just very aware of the immediate feelings of loss she will have, and so Trav and I are prepped for game day. We’ve got our plan, and we’re going to stick to it. Here it is: Pray.

Trav and I realize that there are going to be difficult times, but the fact is, this is going to be great. We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously, because there’s going to be a weird period where we’re figuring things out, and it’s going to be quite interesting, if not funny. So if you’re reading this, please say a simple prayer for the Lord’s guidance in all that we do. And that’s it! We’re ready!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


My experience of becoming a mother has so far been comprised of nerves. I hope I’ll be a good mother… I hope I’ll be the mother my mom was to me… I hope I don’t royally screw this child up…I want to be the mom that “has it all together”. Since my daughter is not officially mine until next Monday, I haven’t yet had thoughts of “Oh God, what did I get myself into”?

So, the last 6 months or so we’ve taken classes - mostly me, because I’ll be a stay-at-home mom. We took the obligatory adoption education class together, which overwhelms you with any and all challenges that may come with an adopted child; we’ve taken a course on how to talk to your child about adoption; I took a course on CPR; and, I attended a women’s bible study at my church called Wisdom for Mothers. This study includes a great workbook Denise Glenn put together as part of her Motherwise series, and I learned a lot from the other moms in the group. I admit that I was a bit scared of all that was shared among the moms, but it gave me a reality check. First of all, I was glad we were adopting only one child. I’ll be 36 next month, and I think I’d like to have 3 more children (to Trav’s one more), but I think it’s best not to rush into having too many children too soon. Also, I hear that my love for cooking anything that takes over 15 minutes is going to go by the wayside. I’m still in denial over my get-ready routine in the morning. I understand I won’t be going to the bathroom by myself for a long, long time. Well, like the billboards say, there are opportunities everywhere to connect with your child.

This trip I brought 3 books: The Bible, Freedom for Mothers, by Denisse Glenn (I’m missing the first several weeks of my newest bible study and the spill-your-guts portion shared by moms), and Baby Signs, by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwin. I received Baby Signs as a gift at my shower a couple weeks ago, and although I’ve always brushed off comments about using sign language for children, my inner-self told me I needed to consider it. Travis and I have learned some Russian, and we thought that it would be helpful to our daughter in communicating. In reality, it acts only as a small comfort for her to hear her native language. We learned from her caretaker that she is able to make the sounds that begin to make words. The other day, her sign for wanting to feed herself more food was to arch her back and throw her head back in indignation. At that moment, I thought, how are we going to COMMUNICATE? Words are not helpful to those who can’t speak, and our daughter could not speak Russian or English. Like comedian Bill Engvall says, ‘Here’s Your Sign’.

So, the authors, both PhD’s in the field of Child Development, speak about their two decades worth of studies in this field and the results. The science behind baby sign language makes sense: we come into this world with 100-200 billion brain cells (neurons), but baby’s neurons are unconnected. The connections enable us to organize thoughts, to see relationships among things, to remember past events and to master language. When a child has an experience that allows him to provoke thought and he is able to take an active role (through signing) to communicate, the child’s neurons strengthen much faster than if he had to wait to speak. The benefits studied of children who sign also include: reduced frustrations with communicating (i.e. less tantrums and crying), an increased child/parent bond, increased emotional and intellectual development as compared to the average child, and an increase in the child’s confidence. Sold!

Yesterday and today (Visits # 5 and 6) we got to see our daughter, and we practiced a few signs with the things she has been most interested in: eat, light, more and book. She is pointing a lot, and can already identify the giant teddy bear in the room when you ask her in Russian “Gdye Mishka”? Hopefully by the time we leave Russia, we will have a few signs down so that we can communicate the important things.

Yesterday was by far the best day yet. She was smiling and laughing a lot, and she is making a lot of eye contact. She still does not enjoy being left by the caretakers, and sometimes seems too happy when they come to get her, which admittedly is very hard for me. But Travis reminds me that this is very good for her to have such strong attachments to the people here, and that it will be like that for us one day too. And, he’s right. This morning she was a bit tired, so I held her for about 30 minutes after she ate and played with us. I had to stand and rock her back and forth like a baby, because that’s the way she wanted it. My arm muscles were tired, but when I started to sit down she let out a few peeps to let me now that I was not allowed to do so. If I’m spoiling her, I really don’t care. She deserves it right now.

We don’t know when we’ll be returning again, but there are 2 other families here with Children’s Hope and we understand that Alexei, Masha and Dima are very busy driving everyone around here and there to get things done. Luckily for us, one of the new couples here have a son at Konakova, so we’ve had more visits this week than we expected. We can’t begin to describe how amazing it has been for us to have close relationships with the adoptive couples we’ve met at the hotel, and it’s a blessing that we’ve become like an extended family. Every couple we’ve met are Christians with their own adoption story, and it’s evident that God’s hand has been a part of this whole experience for all of us. The one statement that blessed us most this morning, maybe this entire adoption process, was something that Jennifer said, and that was this: many people may feel that adoption is Plan B. But God intended it all along as Plan A.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Anna and Ivan's Wedding

We had a great time Saturday, completely filled with wedding activities surrounding Dima’s sister Anna and her husband-to-be, Ivan. Dima picked us up at noon to go to his parents’ apartment, where we were treated like family and invited to a big table of food as soon as we walked through the door. The mushrooms we had picked on Thursday had been made into potato pancakes, and they were very, very good. There were also meat patties, liver, beef and rice steamed in cabbage leaves and cold, shredded turkey covered in clear jello (which failed to make our top 10 list of favorite Russian foods).

After eating, we helped with the decorations while Dima’s cousin Sergei dressed himself in a white wedding dress hanging in the hallway. This, we were told, was good luck for the wedding, but not a traditional custom. The more beautiful of the two brides was waiting for the groom to come, and she looked stunning. When the groom arrived, the bridesmaid stopped him at the door and asked several questions regarding his bride, which if answered incorrectly, meant that his friends had to cough up money so that he could pass to the next question. After answering half a dozen questions, he went to the 5th floor, where he had to answer another series of questions, and correctly identify his wife’s lips on a sheet of paper that had been kissed by all the women present at the pre-wedding party. Once inside the apartment, Sergei appeared in his wedding dress, where the groom once again, had to answer a question by presenting Sergei with a gift, which finally allowed Ivan access to his bride.

Afterwards, we went to a 5 minute civil wedding ceremony, held in Tver. Once the bride and groom are officially wed, they visit several of the monuments in the town, eating chocolate and toasting with champagne. One of the monuments in Tver included the World War II memorial, which leads to a small chapel at the crossing of a bridge. Flowers were laid at the memorial, and then the bride and groom locked an engraved padlock around one of the bridge’s iron spindles, throwing the keys into the Volga river.

A two hour ride later to Kalin, the home of famous Russian composer Tchaikovsky, we settled into the evening’s dinner and celebration. The tables were full of fruits and typical Russian salads, caviar toasts and vodka, steamed fish and potatoes, red and white wine, and champagne. Many games were played through the night, with rounds of dancing and eating in between. There is a definite routine in Russian weddings: eat, toast the newlyweds (drink), play games, drink, dance, and drink again. Travis and I managed to maintain our sobriety by having only a sip after each toast. It is a traditional custom to follow a shot of vodka with a salted cucumber spear, which of course, we had to try once. Other than a few people, we realized that most everyone had managed to avoid drinking too much. We made several new friends Saturday night, and by the end, the groom’s best man was asking Travis and I to “come back to his village to drink vodka”. Um, nyet. Our trusty and sober friend Dima was the only one taking us anywhere. No one driving that night drank anything more than a sip of champagne after the first toast, as there is a severe 2 year loss of your license for doing so. The police randomly pull drivers over for any reason at any time, so your chances of getting caught are very high. So, at 2 am, we made it back to our hotel safe and sound and happy to experience yet another Russian tradition.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Abundant Blessings

Today was the icing on the cake. Dima took us to see our girl this morning, so we knew that we would be able to visit her by ourselves for the first time! I was extra happy about that. She cried when she saw us, but Dima was in the room videotaping us all together. I think 2 men in the room was overwhelming, because she certainly wasn’t crying at the sight of me ;-)

Trav sat her on his lap and opened this huge bucket of Cheerios and she just started powering through them. This bucket is over an ounce worth of cereal, so I thought “Great, Trav, we’re going to ruin her lunch!” but we couldn’t take them away because she got upset. She was hungry! And she wouldn’t let us feed her because she wanted to grab fistfuls of these Cheerios and stuff them in her mouth as fast as possible. Today was by far her best day with us because she was having so much fun, and we heard her laughing for the first time. Trav blew bubbles so she could catch them and she was having such a good time that when the caretaker came to get her, she didn’t get out of my lap until she was physically picked up. Yay!! We’re making progress!

After we left the orphanage, Dima was driving us back to Tver, and I was telling Travis that I wanted to see if our hotel would take us up on an unusual request for an excursion to the forest to pick mushrooms. Dima told us he had time the rest of the day, so whoopee, we were going mushroom hunting!!! First of all, it seems to me that every European knows how to forage for mushrooms, and they do this for fun while getting out in the fresh air. And secondly, the year I spent in France, no one was able to take me, so this had been a big disappointment. It doesn’t take a lot for me to be entertained. So, Dima takes us to his summer home about 6mi outside Tver, and he has everything we need – rubber boots for Trav and me, 2 buckets, hats, warm coats, the whole thing. It’s like a dream come true. These summer homes are rustic, but they each have about ¼ to ½ acre of land, and each of them has a garden. So in Dima’s garden he has cucumbers, plum trees (best plums I’ve ever had by the way, I’m bringing home the pits to see if I can root them), apple trees, red currants, dahlias, golden rod. The homes are on dirt roads, they have electricity and water, but cold water only (brr). This is typical.

So out we go schlepping through the mud to the forest, and at the end of the dirt road where the forest is, there is a small airport. Into the forest we go looking for mushrooms. The grass was knee-high, white birch trees were everywhere, their golden fall color reminding us of the Colorado aspen trees, and so we begin to find mushrooms. My first mushroom was the size of my pinky fingernail and white, so I show it to Dima and ask him if I’m on the right track. Nyet. Okay, but I treasured it, so I threw it into my bucket anyway. “Hey Dima, how about this mushroom growing out of the tree bark”? Nyet. Strike two. “Dima, I found one! It’s white with a flat top and it even smells edible”! Nyet. This wasn’t going well. Then I see another one with a white stem and a brown top like an umbrella. It’s slimy, but I grab it anyway, and I’m still excited about all these mushrooms, so my hopes were still high. “Dima, how about this one?” Dah, Good! Okay, now we’re in business. Trav, Dima and I were making our way through the forest, picking mushroom after mushroom, and then we hit a lull. I found some reddish mushrooms, and I thought ‘Nyet’, so a minute later we told Dima about them and he said “Oh, those are the best ones”. Great. Where did we find those? Trav found the lost souls, and we hit the jackpot with red mushrooms for the next 20 minutes. Oh, by the way, here’s my disclaimer: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.

We were out there about an hour and a half and I was like a kid in a candy store. We had collected a bucket full of mushrooms for Dima’s mom and I wasn’t even sad not to try them. After the mushroom hunt, we went back to Dima’s to warm up and have some hot tea and some bread he had made, which was very good. It was surprisingly made with sour milk. And some other things, but the sour milk really caught my attention. Then, just when the day couldn’t have been better, he invited us to his sister’s wedding on Saturday. Did we just win the lottery? Could someone just pinch me? Well, we have the clothes, so now all we need is a gift. There’s no dismissing the abundance of blessings that have brightened our week and the unforgettable memories created as a result. It’s a feeling we just don’t want to ever go away, and it’s so evident to me because I’m ready to buy that cute little summer home I saw today…

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Decision

Break out the champagne! We are officially going to be parents on Monday, September 22nd (Gotcha Day)! I got up at 6 this morning to do some last minute studying on Russian history. I was a bit nervous. Trav was asleep until 7:30 without a care in the world. It was raining and cold this morning, which was good because our clothes for court included a suit and tie for Trav and a wool skirt and sweater for me. We were informed by Mike last night that as soon as he and his wife entered the court for their hearing a couple weeks ago, someone cut off the A/C. Court usually lasts for an hour and a half, so within minutes, Mike could feel the first drip, and then the next, and before he knew it, he was drenched in sweat with a huge ring the size of an inner tube around both arms. Someone opened the court door to pass through briefly, and he said he let out a huge gasp at the feeling of cool air. Thanks for that story Mike. Not only was I worried about the court proceeding, but now I worried my Clinical Strength Secret antiperspirant would fail me. To make matters worse, we were told that just last week, an American passed out from the heat in the room. I was sweating just thinking about it.

Our judge was described to us as a 70-something, moody man with unusual, antagonistic questions coupled with a knack for pushing buttons. Trav likened the court process to rushing a fraternity, hence the ability to bond with people we’ve only known for a day or two. With so many people praying for us, we didn’t experience the dark side of our judge, so thank you Jesus!!! Once the proceedings began, the judge asked us to let him know if we needed to take a break and sit down, so that was a very kind gesture. The prosecutor motioned that the secretary crack the window open for me. I was touched. The questions asked were very fair, so we had a very good court experience. Some of the questions contained concern for how well our daughter would be received in America, because of the political turmoil surrounding the Russia/Georgia conflict.

The people in attendance were a translator, a secretary, a prosecutor, two representatives from the orphanage, and a representative from the place our daughter’s mother resides. We received additional information about the mother, which in any case is always good. The representative for our daughter’s mother asked to see pictures, so after court, we spoke with her and gave her some pictures, and also jotted her address down so that we could send her some updates in the future. We know it means a lot to the representatives taking care of others to keep in touch, because they truly care for others – they’re angels with the gift of grace.

Well, now we begin our 10 day waiting period. So far it’s off to a good start! We get to visit our little girl tomorrow for a few hours, and every bit of time we get to spend together helps make the transition towards being a family a little easier. Thanks to all of you for your prayers. How humbling it has been to experience the love and support of such a huge community in so many ways.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Trip Two

What a difference a direct flight makes! We got here Sunday morning with all our bags in just over 9 hours. We packed for one additional person and managed to pack 2 bags lighter than the first trip, which was a great relief. I slept through most of the day and night, getting up to eat dinner and take a walk to town with Travis. Monday we went to see a round of doctors which took about 4 hours. Each of the 8 doctors were given gifts (chocolate and cognac mostly) so that we could take the VIP route and not wait in line like everyone else. The hospital here and the clinic are not quite* the standards Americans would expect, but all in all the doctors were very friendly and happy for us.

Today we went to see our little girl and it was a great visit. My worries about tomorrow’s court proceeding melted away when we saw her, knowing that God has our family in His very capable hands. She is 19 months and is already potty-trained. Her hair has gotten longer and she has cute blond curls, with a set of dimples when she smiles! She prefers raisins to crackers and still is hesitant being near Travis, although we’ve heard that it’s common for girls to warm up to their dads soon after they come out of the orphanage. We took a lot of photos and video today too which is priceless. We both felt more comfortable with this particular visit, singing and goofing around with our little girl like our translator wasn’t in the room.

Tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. we appear for court before the judge. The social worker at Konakova’s orphanage prepped us for several questions that may be asked of us, and we were told to remain calm and confident, with no crying or passing out (more on that later).

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I love being able to compare our adoption to a Presidential election. We started our campaign in October 2006 to hold the honorable position of Parents. With this position comes a great responsibility to do what is in the best interest of our child, and to make decisions that will affect her life forever. We hold in our hands the ability to impact her quality of education, healthcare and wages, to ensure her security, to limit and promote certain freedoms, to enact legislation, to manage her foreign affairs by intercepting evil influences and supporting the good, and to promote her pursuit of life, liberty after age 25, and happiness.

We have won many delegates along our campaign trail, and the following is a list of people who made significant contributions on our behalf:

3 donors provided financial gifts
6 social workers managed our adoption affairs in the U.S. and Russia
7 friends provided letters of reference
5 Medical Doctors proved our state of health and sanity
3 Georgia Secretary of State employees provided authentication of documents submitted to Russia
5 Notaries proved our true identity
6 Medical Lab technicians tested us negative for drugs and communicable disease, on 8 occasions, just to make sure
1 Forsyth County Officer provided background checks and fingerprint verifications
Family, friends, church members and the entire GA-400 branch of Citizens Bank provided prayers, support, services, gifts and encouragement

Travis and I made several trips during our 2-year campaign to many offices around the state, including:

12 trips to the Forsyth County Sherriff’s office
19 trips to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, to authenticate over 200 documents
25 trips to various UPS and Post Offices
5 visits to doctors’ offices
8 trips to medical clinics to have blood drawn
2 trips to the U.S. Citizens and Immigration office
40+ trips made to various notaries
1 visit to an X-ray lab
1 visit to county hall
Many trips to our home study agency’s office
3 classes in adoption education were attended

So, the general consensus of Americans we know feel confident we are qualified for this Office, and we thank you for your support. In our initial act of diplomacy, we visited Russia to convince delegates there of our intent to give a citizen of theirs parents who will dedicate their lives to love her to the fullest extent of their ability. On September 6th we will once again travel to ask a Russian judge for his or her formal decree in joining us with our daughter. If we gain approval from the judge on September 10th, we will be sworn in as parents and child, forever a family. Until then we are on pins and needles for the judge’s decision, praying that it will be a landslide victory for us to bring our daughter home. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the battle for President still looms…

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

They Told Us So

Page 9 of our Adoption Guide states, “There are many unexpected bumps that can occur during your process, ie. Fingerprints could get lost or need to be retaken (been there, done that at least 6 times), an unforeseen paperwork delay could be encountered (check yes on that one: 12 months), the adoption trip could be delayed or moved forward (yup, experiencing that now), necessary offices in the foreign country could be closed for no reason (we pray no), a judicial authority may delay a court date (yes, ours is two days later than expected, thank the Lord it wasn’t longer), etc. These are only a few examples of the many kinds of delays that are encountered every day…the important thing to remember is to be patient. There is nothing that you cannot handle with a good attitude.” The next paragraph begins, in bold caps, “Three most important things you need: Patience, Patience and Patience”.

Well, there it is. They forgot to mention the onset of bipolar disorder we’ve experienced on several recent occasions. For instance, we were ready to throw in the towel one week before receiving “The Call”. Or, not sleeping last night after figuring out that our expensive one-entry visa may expire before we complete the paperwork prior to leaving Russia. But today we found out we should be able to leave the day our visa expires. That shouldn’t be too stressful.

It’s been a rough week. We’ve been home just over 2 weeks and we feel a bit of uncertainty in many ways. The Russia-Georgia conflict and the American response to it has us feeling distressed. It is our sincere prayer that Russia will not punish us for being American citizens tied to a country with alliances. Our alliance is with our daughter in Russia, a little girl we’ve already fallen hopelessly in love with, whom we pray for every day and night and think about throughout the day. This difficult year and a half process was done with intention and determination. Being in the middle of a conflict like this really makes you think about alliances, countries, politics and the people who live around the world subjected to the decisions made by their country’s leaders.

The Olympic Games signify a friendly competition between individuals who represent countries around the world. The press does a great job of telling the story of athletes from many countries, and it humanizes them so you can celebrate their accomplishments and appreciate the trials they’ve overcome. I find it hard to define the athletes by the country they represent. And so it is with citizens around the world. In a world ruled by few and inhabited by many, it’s hard to judge a citizen by its country, other than by the obvious cultural customs and history.

Our daughter will be a dual citizen of both Russia and the United States. It’s important for us to share with her the history, customs, food, holidays, language, and the people of America and Russia. She will be proud to represent both countries. By adopting our daughter from Russia, we are adopting the Russian people, and our daughter is likewise adopting the Americans. We will align ourselves to each other and to God, and that’s all we’ll need to overcome the challenges ahead.

Monday, July 28, 2008

First Trip Comes to an End

Our hotel in Moscow was charging $50/hr to use the internet, so we waited to post 'til we returned to the U.S. Everything went great!

Thursday we had a brief pre-court hearing in the afternoon with one of the judges. We had prayed with one of the other couples beforehand that everything would go well, as the judge that everyone has had this last week has asked some tough questions. Our hearing went well. He wants us to bring him our letters of recommendation, including an additional one from our pastor, and more pictures of our home, and the additional paperwork required before court. We were given a court date of September 8th!!! That was much sooner than we had expected, so we are ecstatic. Alexei was representing us while in court, so we think he had a lot to do with getting us a quick court date.

Friday morning we left to Moscow, and arrived around noon. The first thing we noticed from the outskirts of the city was the many older, run-down apartment buildings, but there is a lot of new construction happening. There are many old and beautiful buildings in the city, with the Moscow River running through it. Moscow somewhat reminds me of Paris, but the roads and sidewalks are in poor condition. The subway, however, is great. It's very easy to navigate, with several beautiful characteristics in many of the stations, including marble walls, paintings, carvings, mosaics and chandeliers - some of them look like small art galleries.

Many people dress to impress, and the younger women walk everywhere in 3-inch stilettos and short skirts. It makes their legs look longer. Maybe I'll try that, I've always wanted longer legs, ha ha. Many people smoke. Most of the tourists seem to be French, which could likely be the reason for there being as many smokers as there are in Moscow!
Red Square, including The Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral, and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior are impressive and stunning. There is also a large monument to Peter the Great in the Moscow River. Arbat Street represents the shopping district, and many restaurants are also located there, including the Hard Rock Cafe. There is so much we didn't see that we can't wait to come back. The food has also been great. I had such great borsch that I hope to squirrel the recipe from the chef on our next trip.

All in all, the best part of the trip was obviously meeting our little girl, and the worst was leaving her there. We saw the best of Russia, as a tourist, but it's easy to realize that what was unseen is a sad situation. While our stay was comfortable, our visit to the orphanage reminds us how many children around the world are starving for love and comfort, even in the U.S., and it's heartbreaking not to be able to make that happen for each one of them. It also reminds us that while it's okay to take vacations (ie. Enjoy life), it's also important to make a difference for someone else, and for us, that someone else will soon be our daughter!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Zdrastvutye from Tver

That's Hello! (Rita, you must be so proud). Today we had a very short trip to the notary to sign our intent to adopt, so we spent most of the day walking around the city. It has a population of about 500,000, and it's known in Russia as an ecological tourism center. It might be similar to Minnesota with all the rivers, lakes and forests. All of the Russian presidents since Breshnev have owned a vacation home here, including the current president, Dmitry Medvedev. Tver was also a place of rest for Catherine and Peter the Great. People walk a lot around here, they all seem to be thin; and, the women oddly enough are either wearing flats or stilettos. What we have seen of Russia so far is beautiful. A lot of the buildings are painted similar to those in Salzburg, lots of cool pastels. The woodwork around the windows of homes is intricately carved, and all of the Russian Orthodox churches have the beautiful onion domes. The city is fortunate that the only American restaurant here is a Baskin Robbins. Tonight we took a boat tour on the Volga, which is akin to the Mississippi River, to the beat of dance club techno, but our legs were just too tired to get up and dance ;-) Contrary to Tver's ecological industry, we saw quite a bit of industry along the river, which has unfortunately made the Volga very unclean.

We've had the opportunity to speak to some locals in Tver to get a sense of what life is like here. Economically, people are transitioning pretty well from a government controlled country to independence. Most religious people are Russian Orthodox, which is apparently similar to the Catholic religion, with some minor differences. Moscow is now the most expensive city in the world. It has a higher concentration of billionaires than any other city worldwide. Oil and gas exports are making Russia one of the most rapidly developing nations in the world as well. It really should speak to Americans about using the resources we have.

There aren't a lot of English speakers in Tver, so we play charades until we understand each other, so it's nice when you can communicate with someone. Travis and I will learn more Russian while we wait for trip #2 to hopefully "get by", but more importantly as a comfort to our girl. It was a bummer not to see her today, but we're glad to have explored and asked questions about Tver so that we can share our understanding of the city and the people with her.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"We Do"

Our driver and interpreter were running 15 minutes late to pick us up today, and a good thing because our baggage arrived just in time for us to grab the toys and family picture book for our little girl (I've got to protect her information here, so I'm not going to mention her name). It's a God thing-this was the last day we had to see her, which is SO hard, and we wanted to make sure the caretakers had a book they could give her with our pictures in it to help her remember us.
Time really flies in the orphanage. I felt like we barely spent 30 minutes with our cutie. She cried again when she saw us in the room, but Trav quickly popped a goldfish cracker in her mouth and all was well! Trav visited with the doctor and the social worker while I had all the fun. We got a lot more smiles today, more eye contact and some babbling, so I think she felt much more comfortable. Since there were so many stuffed animals around the room, I walked her around to several and put the animals up to her lips making a kissing sound, which she really liked. She had a big smile on her face and leaned forward to kiss all the animals-it was really cute. I was preparing her to kiss me before we left today, but she preferred the animals to me. I stole a kiss anyway!
She is walking well on her own and very aware of her surroundings. She is quiet but active and developmentally at about 12 months, which is normal given her age and the time spent in the orphanage. The orphanage is very clean and orderly, the children seem to be well cared for and the staff seems genuinely concerned for them all, which is great. Unfortunately we didn't get any video, but we were able to snap a few quick pictures before the doctor walked in. We were fortunate that the orphanage had a lot of information on her mother, and after we had some questions answered, we felt comfortable with our decision to adopt our little girl! Yea! Congratulations to us, we're so excited! This whole experience is surreal. It's amazing.

We have made fast friends with 2 other couples from Ohio whose children are in the same orphanage, so we've decided to get together every year for a reunion to keep the common thread between us and the kids going. There are 5 couples representing 2 different agencies in our hotel, so we've been having a great time sharing stories and experiences in court. We wanted to take a boat tour on the Volga River today, but I really needed a nap! Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Big Day

After a very long day and a half of flying and driving, we made it to Tver, without luggage! Our 3 lost bags will apparently arrive tomorrow. Lesson Number 1: ALWAYS carry an extra set of clothing in a carry-on bag. We have been fortunate to meet 4 other couples at the hotel who are also adopting, so we’ve been having a blast and even scored some clothing donations.

This morning we had a wonderful but short visit with our daughter-to-be. The orphanage is about an hour’s drive from Tver, in a town called Konakava. We shopped for a few toys since the toys we had bought our sweet little girl were in our lost luggage. The orphanage is in a small park-like setting, with a little path around the building, full of flowers and trees. We waited about 5 minutes, and in she came with one of the caretakers. She was not happy to see us nor to see her caretaker go, so there were some tears, which was a very good sign of attachment. She carried a little doll, like Barbie, and we just let her take her time to warm up to us, which took about 45 minutes of play and Travis feeding her some Cheerios and Goldfish crackers. Then, out came the smiles and fun. Oh good, another foodie in our family! She was on the floor with Travis playing with food and stacking cups, and I only had time to snap a few pictures and capture a little bit of video until it was time for her to leave us for lunch. Our visit only lasted about 2 hours, but when her caretaker came to get her, she was not sure she wanted to go, so we were very happy to see that she took a liking to both of us. We are on our way to see her again tomorrow, so we’re hoping we get to spend more time with her, as this will be our last day to visit. She is a doll! I can't legally post pictures here, so sorry!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It's A Girl!!!

We are so excited to announce that we got "The Call" yesterday, July 7th, and surprise of all surprises, we have the most beautiful little girl waiting for us! The reason it was such a surprise is because our agency had informed all Russia waiting families at the beginning of the year that it was unlikely that anyone would receive a referral for a girl under the age of 3. Apparantly, there are a large number of requests for girls, and the number of adoptions by Russian nationals has increased. So, we feel extra blessed! She is 18 months old, blonde and blue-eyed, and soon to be very spoiled! We get to see her in just 2 short weeks. There really is a light at the end of the paperwork tunnel!

Friday, July 4, 2008

My Country 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty

Happy 4th of July! We are forever grateful to the millions of veterans who have served and still serve our country to uphold the freedoms we take for granted, and we thank God for the countless blessings he has given to us all.

Last June, we celebrated the month by submitting our dossier to Tver, Russia, and then we took this unforgettable 3000 mile roadtrip, when gas was cheap. We visited Mt. Rushmore, which although inspired by Gutzon Borglum, was carved by hundreds of men with jackhammers, none of whom knew anything about carving sculpture from rock. It amazes me how great the rock carvings turned out given the lack of art skills and the actual scale of the carving. Maybe I too, can carve like Michaelangelo, and just don't know it yet! And what's more, no one died during the many years they worked on it. It's a remarkable American landmark that we plan to revisit with our children one day. We continued through the Black Hills of South Dakota, and then met our families in mid-June at Yellowstone National Park. After Yellowstone we traveled down to the Grand Tetons. All of it was incredibly beautiful. The parks are full of visitors and staff that come from all over the world. It's a great experience for kids and adults, and you can wear everyone out all at once!

This year, gas is expensive, adoption expenses are high, and time does not allow for a long vacation. So this morning, we woke at 5 a.m. to run, for our first time, the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta. It was a 10K, and we ran it in 1hour and 9 minutes, amidst 55,000 people. For dinner, Travis made baby-back ribs, homemade french fries, and a salad (he is an amazing cook...I really scored), and we will watch the fireworks over the lake tonight. Next year, our child will celebrate their very first 4th of July as an American citizen, and I can't help but want to spend it in New York City, where my grandma first arrived on Ellis Island with her family in 1927 to become citizens of the United States. Leaving everyone and everything you know must be a difficult experience, and it challenges me to answer the inevitable question: How will our child react, and how will we help them transition?